I have no problem with meat. Really. I'm an omnivore through and through. But I'm starting to have a real problem with factory farming. Not that I won't, in a moment of weakness, scarf down an utterly-unsustainably-raised-but-delicious order of crispy deep-fried chicken strips from Jack In The Box. I am human after all.
But if I'm going to buy meat for my family, or prepare something for guests, I will go out of my way, and pay a premium, to get something that was sustainably raised. Call me an idealist, but I want to buy chickens that ran around, kept their beaks, and grazed on grass. I want to buy beef that didn't spend the last six weeks of its life hip-deep in its own excrement, trying to digest a grain for which its ruminant belly is clearly not evolved. When I eat meat, I want my dollars to create demand for smarter, earth-and-animal friendly farming practices. (And yes, I did read the Omnivore's Dilemma. And yes, it got to me. Which won't surprise anyone who reads this blog.)
So a couple of weeks ago I decided to roast a chicken. I researched recipes, sending out an appeal via facebook for my friends' favorite versions. Once the recipe was selected, I went to the Alameda Natural Grocery and bought a free-range, pasture raised, air-dried roaster. I rubbed her with salt and pepper and olive oil. I stuffed her with a steaming lemon and some fresh herbs. I roasted her and her potato friends gently (as the recipe commanded) and then when she wasn't crisping up, I broiled her skin into tasty yumminess. She wasn't the best roasted chicken I've ever had (there's no beating Zuni's wood-fired oven) but she was damned good.
At the table, our little family did homage to the lovely bird. Between the three of us, we ate almost all of the white meat (paired with a front-yard salad, naturally). Normally, I'm a dark meat girl, but the white meat on this thing was so moist and flavorful that there was no need to go for the higher-fat slices. I packed away much of the rest of the meat for Kalin's lunch the next day. All that was left was the meaty carcass, the wings, some funky gristly bits, the underdone skin from below the bird, and the raw chicken neck.
Given my recent reading, I was keenly aware of the fact that every animal that is slaughtered to provide a meal like this one has an environmental impact. Even organic, humanely raised chicken, the waste of whom is composted into fertilizer, has an environmental cost... particualry when it is shipped in trucks that burn fossil fuels. Given this, wasn't it my responsibility to get the absolute most from this animal? To use it ALL?
So instead of tossing them, I plopped those leftover parts into my stock pot. I tossed in a couple of bay leafs, a handful of garden cut rosemary, some pepper corns, some kosher salt, and some semi-fresh thyme that had been residing in my fridge for about two weeks too long. I cut a few limp carrots in half, quartered an onion, threw in the last rib of celery from the depths of the produce drawer, and covered it all with water. Total prep time? Maybe 2 minutes. Absolutely clean veggie drawer? A happy bonus.
I brought the whole mess to a boil, turned it down and let it simmer all evening. Watched bad TV. Watched Rich tickle Kalin. Nibbled dark chocolate. Read another food book that will undoubtedly lead me deeper into the slow-food wilderness. Never checked the stove. Just let the simmer do the work.
Just before bed, I turned off the burner and poured the contents through a colander into another clean pot. The disreputable-looking solids went in a bowl in the fridge. The next morning, they'd go to my backyard coop. My opportunistically omnivorous ladies would gleefuly devour every edible scrap, thus converting everything but the bones into future eggs.
But the main result of my endless simmer was a fragrant, rich, golden liquid. I poured most of it into empty yogurt containers (about six of them...I made a LOT of broth) and stored them in the freezer. The rest? Kalin slurped it down. My child, who has never enjoyed a soup in her life, not only drank a cup of broth fresh from the stove, but had me warm up more broth the next morning...for her breakfast. Apparently, she's a fan.
In the intervening weeks I've made several dishes with this stuff. It's a marvel. I needn't do anything fancy to make it tasty. Defrost, throw in some veg, and some noodles, and voila, something delicious that my daughter will actually eat.
All the years I've been using Swanson's broth seem laughable now. I'd always assumed that Swanson's was fine. Sure I wouldn't want to warm it up and drink it. Nasty! But it tasted fine cooked into food. Or so I thought. How was I to know that homemade broth, which tastes good on its own, would make exponentially tastier food? Now that I write these words, they feel obvious...but they weren't obvious to me. And just in case they weren't obvious to you either, I'm sharing.
So what are you waiting for? The holidays, with their stuffings, and gravies and casseroles are around the corner, crying out for good broth. Next time you serve a chicken, or T-Bones, or a bone-in fish, boil up your leftovers. Believe me, it's culinary gold. And you'll feel wonderfully virtuous when you use it all!
As for the small mumified child that started this particular diatribe, my apologies. You guys get mad at me when I don't include a photo, and I didn't take a photo of my roasted-chicken carcass. So I improvised.
Remember, Kalin Tut says "Throw that carcass in the pot!"